House Oversight Subcommittee Examines 'Force Multipliers' to Secure the Southern Border
FAIR Take | March 2023
On March 8, the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs held a hearing entitled “Force Multipliers: Examining the Need for Additional Resources to Disrupt Transnational Crime at the Border and Beyond.” As the title suggests, the purpose of the hearing was to examine what resources and policy reforms are needed to combat the Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) driving the current border crisis. Featured as witnesses were senior officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as well as a K-9 team to demonstrate how dogs help interdict illicit narcotics.
As the hearing opened, Subcommittee chairman Glenn Grothman (R-WI) presented the sobering reality of the border crisis by highlighting the 656,000 pounds of illicit narcotics seized at the southern border in fiscal year 2022, including nearly 15,000 pounds of deadly fentanyl. He also lamented the loss of 107,000 Americans to drug overdoses in 2021. “That’s a year old,” he warned. “We’re going to get bigger numbers, sadly, soon.”
While last month’s hearing focused on securing the border between ports of entry, this hearing focused on operations at the ports of entry. Because ports of entry are manned by CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO), OFO’s Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Diane J. Sabatino, was one of the central witnesses at this hearing. She highlighted several challenges facing CBP in securing the border. For example, she told the Subcommittee that CBP is currently only able to use electronic scanning technology on 1-2% of passenger vehicles and 15-17% of commercial vehicles – a woefully inadequate level.
Sabatino also revealed that OFO is not fully utilizing K-9 teams as intended. She informed the subcommittee that the last time there was an increase in K-9 positions was in 2019. OFO currently has 712 positions, including 59 supervisory positions. However, there are only 488 K-9 teams deployed to ports of entry, with 114 more expected to complete training and be deployed this year. That will still leave CBP with 51 vacancies.
Some Democrat Members raised concerns about CBP One app outages. The CBP One app, launched by the Biden Administration, allows illegal aliens to announce their arrival at the border to CBP in advance and gain entry — either by claiming asylum (fraudulently or not) or requesting parole. Ms. Sabatino testified that CBP is working with the Mexican government to “support, streamline, and enhance bandwidth” in Mexico to improve performance. She assured the Democrat Members she was tackling the problem, saying, “I personally had the opportunity to speak to several [non-governmental organizations] in South Texas that were highlighting these challenges to us.”
The other witness at the hearing was Anthony Salisbury, the Deputy Executive Associate Director of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division of ICE. In response to questioning by Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) about what additional resources are needed from Congress, Salisbury stressed the need for more personnel. “Technology’s great – it allows agents to be focused – but…technology will never replace the men and women actually pursuing what the technology uncovers, so we will inevitably need more agents in the field working these investigations,” he explained.
In some of the last comments of the day, Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said, “As you leave today, recognize that we up on the Hill have two sides of the story, [but] we can’t get away from the narrative that millions of people are impacted by drug cartels. Their long reach into communities is no longer just the largest cities in this country. They’re rural, and they are across many states. This is a huge problem.” Those words ring true every day, and lawmakers must take decisive action to secure the border, defeat the TCOs, and stem the deadly flow of illicit narcotics.